Portsmouth Herald: Lawmakers ask DES to address PFCs in water

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Lawmakers ask DES to address PFCs in water
By Jeff McMenemy

PORTSMOUTH — A group of area lawmakers sent a letter to a state Department of Environmental Services official asking him to address high levels of PFCs found in surface waters near the Coakley landfill.

“As discussed on multiple occasions during (the) Governor’s Pediatric Cancer Task Force and subcommittee meetings, highly contaminated surface water flows unmitigated from (the) Coakley landfill Superfund site contaminating Berry’s Brook and the rail bed adjacent to the Superfund site,” the lawmakers state in their letter to Michael Wimsatt, director of DES’ Waste Management Division. “The concentration of at least one of the perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) detected in samples collected from the surface water of Berry’s Brook is the third highest concentration detected to date anywhere in the world.”

The letter, which was sent to Wimsatt on Thursday, was signed by state Sen. Martha Fuller Clark, along with state Reps. Mindi Messmer, Mike Edgar, Henry Marsh, Dennis Malloy, Becky McBeath, Pam Gordon, Tamara Le, Phil Bean, Laura Pantelakos and Renny Cushing.

“As you are aware, this area is open to the public and small children have been witnessed playing in Berry’s Brook. Berry’s Brook is also stocked with fish and the public routinely fishes in this brook,” the lawmakers stated in the letter. “As you know, task force members have also expressed concerns on multiple occasions about the taking of fish from Berry’s Brook for consumption when the state of Michigan would advise against this.”

Many area residents are worried chemicals leaching from the landfill, which is located in Greenland and North Hampton, will contaminate their residential drinking wells.

DES is testing wells around the landfill to try to map a contaminant plume spreading from the site, which include PFCs found above the EPA’s advisory level in monitoring wells and in residential wells below the level, and 1,4-dioxane, which has been found off site but below the advisory level.

Both DES and the Conservation Law Foundation tested Berry’s Brook and found high levels of PFCs in the surface water.

The lawmakers told Wimsatt they “are very concerned that proactive steps are not being taken by the state or EPA to notify the public of the potential threats outlined in this correspondence in a timely fashion, especially when it is currently the height of the recreational season.”

“Please respond to this correspondence with a concrete plan to address this issue so that the public is made aware of the potential threat from contact with or ingestion of this water or wild life from Berry’s Brook or the adjacent rail bed,” they said.

DES spokesman James Martin was not immediately available for comment about the letter on Friday.

Messmer, in an interview Friday, said lawmakers believe the public should be notified about what they believe are dangerously high levels of PFCs in Berry’s Brook.

“People right now are fishing in the brook, kids are playing in the brook, animals are drinking from the brook,” she said.

The city of Portsmouth closed the Haven well at the Pease International Tradeport in May 2014 after the Air Force found levels of perfluorooctane sulfonic acid, or PFOS, at levels 12.5 times higher than what was then the Environmental Protection Agency’s provisional health advisory.

The EPA has since dramatically lowered its permanent health advisory for both PFOS and perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, which they’ve classified as “contaminants of emerging concern,” because of their suspected health effects. Early studies have tentatively linked PFC exposure to health problems including cancer, thyroid disease, ulcerative colitis, high cholesterol, developmental delays, pregnancy induced hypertension and preeclampsia.

Messmer stressed lawmakers have been asking state officials to take action on the issue “for months.” “We also want them to stop the contamination from flowing into the brook in the first place,” she said.

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